WASHINGTON -- If you want further evidence of how deep Democratic losses may be in the fall midterm elections, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh's suddenly shaky bid for a third term is exhibit A.
A few months ago, Bayh was considered a shoo-in for re-election in the Hoosier State, but top election handicappers have now moved his chances from "safe" to "endangered."
Within hours of former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats' announcement Wednesday that he is considering challenging Bayh in November, the political dynamics of the race changed dramatically. The conservative Republican's "likely entry into the Indiana Senate race puts another seat into play" for the GOP, said election forecaster Stuart Rothenberg.
"Move from Currently Safe to Narrow Advantage for the Incumbent Party," he said in his widely read Rothenberg Political Report this week.
But the senator's "narrow advantage" may be precarious at best, according to recent polls that show growing disapproval of the two-term senator who once had presidential ambitions.
Despite Bayh's once carefully cultivated image as a party moderate, he has lurched left under the rhetorical spell of Barack Obama's presidency and the pressures of a largely liberal Democratic caucus in the Senate.
He voted for the $2.5 trillion Obamacare bill, despite strong opposition back home where polls showed 60 percent opposition to the healthcare plan. He backed Obama's $800 billion-plus economic-stimulus bill that has failed to create the 3.5 million jobs he promised. He supported Obama's unpopular move to remove terrorist prisoners from Guantanamo Bay and try them in civilian courts because the American Civil Liberties Union said they should be afforded the constitutional rights available to all American citizens.
This was not the sensible moderate Evan Bayh, who once chaired the centrist-leaning Democratic Leadership Council that had declared war on the liberal wing of his party. He was breaking with his state's right-of-center political traditions, and Indiana voters are now breaking away from him.
A Rasmussen statewide poll of likely voters released Jan. 25 showed him trailing Rep. Mike Pence, the House Republican Conference chairman, by 47 percent to 44 percent. Pence, however, has decided to remain in his leadership post. A matchup with GOP Rep. John Hostettler was a virtual dead heat.
More troubling, Rasmussen found that only 23 percent of likely Indiana voters had a "very favorable" impression of Bayh, while more than 40 percent had either a very or somewhat unfavorable view or were unsure.